Since the Red Sox and Mike Napoli informally agreed to terms on a 3 year $39 million contract, the NHL Lockout has been settled, the Patriots are hosting a home playoff game this Sunday and Rajon Rondo has been suspended twice. Now we know why the deal has not been settled. The Red Sox like always, are pushing for either less money or less years for Napoli’s services, whose injury history is well known. The Sox brass seems to be worried about his hip. Neither side has real leverage. Napoli, if sent back to the open market would be seen as damaged goods, if the Red Sox do not finalize an agreement within a few weeks. The Red Sox need a first baseman and do not want to give up a draft pick to sign Adam LaRoche. This relationship is rocky from the start, even with the marriage seeming destined to happen once the season ended.
Napoli, I feel, will finally sign with the Red Sox sometime next week as arbitration hearings on unsigned and controllable players are coming up. Those seem to be settled as every player with get a raise, even Andrew Bailey. Napoli is no defensive wiz at first base but, the Red Sox feel the rest of the infield defense can pick up the slack. Stephen Drew, Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks can carry the weight and help the pitchers out, making the majority of routine plays. Three years and $39 million is vastly overpaying for a guy who didn’t hit above .230 last year. The Red Sox are paying him solely on the fact that he mashes at Fenway Park and is a good clubhouse presence. Almost all of the money saved from the Dodgers blockbuster trade has been spent on five players, if this deal is ever settled.
When Napoli is signed, where will he hit in the order? I feel the way the Red Sox lineup may go has him hitting fifth in the order, which I do not like at all but that is just how the roster is. The batting order I envision would go something like this:
- CF Ellsbury
- 2B Pedroia
- 3B Middlebrooks
- DH Ortiz
- 1B Napoli
- LF Gomes
- RF Victorino
- C Saltalmacchia
- SS Drew
Give or take a few moves the batting order could look like that. The Red Sox no longer have a 40 homer 120 RBI threat. Ortiz cannot reach those numbers anymore. I love Middlebrooks and his potential but he is not a thumper the Red Sox need, at least not yet. Jonny Gomes as a six hitter scares me. He has never started regularly and is making more this year than he has in his eleven year career. I understand contracts in baseball are almost never lived up to. We had our own examples in town last year, but throwing money at empty holes does not solve anything.
As much as the offense will be talked about, last year they did still score runs. The pitching was abysmal. Bring in Ryan Dempster and Joel Hanrahan and all things are solved? Not quite. Dempster is an innings eater but the AL East may change that. He will not be asked to be an ace though. Hanrahan has been announced as the closer already and hopefully that does not get to his head with Andrew Bailey ready to step in if needed. With the acquisition of Hanrahan the trades for relievers last year in Bailey and Melancon (traded for Hanrahan) have been admitted as failures. I still feel the Red Sox need to add some pitching depth possibly some minor league deals to Jair Jurrjens or Jeff Karstens. Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales will be the long men but bouncing back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation is not easy for everyone.
With spring training just five weeks away, many key free agents remain unsigned like Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse, which the Red Sox figure to stay away from both. Once those players sign, the market for other players I feel will materialize and the Red Sox will add some depth to the rotation. The real question is, what else will happen between now and when the Napoli signing is finalized? With hockey and baseball on the horizon and football playoffs in full swing, it is a good time to be a sports fan.